Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Season I, Episode 1: Ambush

“Ambush” announces that we are once again the realm of that rare treat—a work of art equally appealing to children and adults. Actually, I have trouble believing children could enjoy it as much as we do. In one episode we are treated to meditations on the futility of war in a series about war, we get philosophical musings by the greatest Jedi master of all time, Yoda, and we get action choreographed as well as a dance company (Yoda fights in a smooth wholeness of motion, as if he can read the whole world, from its natural to its cultural features, while fighting).

The entire conflict is carried out in order to secure the allegiance of the planet Toydaria, a planet that by association with its one representative in the films, Anakin’s slave-owner Watto, is probably fairly business-minded. The moral of the episode is that keeping one’s word and fighting fair can win the allegiance of even the nominally self-interested. But every moral in The Clone Wars is shaded by the monstrous narrative timeline proffered by the six films. This battle, like the others, is orchestrated on both sides by a corrupt politician. We are forced to follow the wisdom of Yoda if we are to enjoy these episodes, taking solace, aesthetic rapture, and even hope in the details. The devil may be in the larger story arc (that of Anakin Skywalker), but the angels are in the details. “To reach our goal, a straight path we will not follow”, says Yoda, embodying the truth in his speech performance. Time will indeed weave back and forth across the various episodes and genres.

And these details, they are in the surreal magnificence of the giant pink forest of coral, before which Yoda pauses to remark:

“Beautiful this moon is



The universe


I hear line breaks in yoda’s poetic speech:
“On the moon below is my mission


I must go”

The details are in the clones, who remove their masks to confess embarrassedly that “there’s not much to see, we all look alike.” But Yoda sees the details, sees the living force in each one of them, as he proffers his strange mixture of Japanese Zen and Bukowski. Yoda fights using one’s weaknesses against her. He uses the environment, confusing his enemies into firing on each other. He is a master conserver—he conserves his mental and physical energy hobbling along on a stick in a robe, then turns into a deadly whirling dervish. He stops Asajj Ventress, Count Dooku’s apprentice and servant, merely by holding her hands in place using the Force. Rather than attack her or even block her blow, he simply makes her pause, suspended in her horrible self-consciousness. If there is any way out of war, it is in this making of the enemy aware, or at least making one’s allies aware. Thus do the clones contrast with the technological production of the Trade Federation, Corporate Alliance, Banking Clan and Techno Union, which fight with droids. “Ah well, it’s my programming,” says one metafictional droid, excusing his archetypal (for bad guys) poor shooting. In another instance of using the enemy’s power against itself, Yoda levitates a super battle droid, rotates it, and manipulates its will such that it starts blasting away its own company. It can only protest: “I’m having a serious malfunction”, because in the disembodied, alienated consciousness of these peons, there is no murder or injustice, only malfunction, and presumably, poor business decisions.

One could choose to see fatalism or futility in the last shot of Yoda’s ship being swallowed by a massive star destroyer, enlisted by his forces but symbolic of the coming Empire, or in Yoda talking to the villain who was once his apprentice—is this Lucas’ darkest leitmotif, that of the master’s inability to prevent the apprentice to succumbing to the easier way? It occurs a number of times in the saga. Perhaps, but in the word and action of the master we are also shown a beautiful world and a beautiful way of navigating it that in the end, if preserved in the self and in the culture, may, after a torturous series of twists and turns and revolutions, bring about the just society seemingly precluded by our inability to impart wisdom anymore. Yoda reminds us in the end of another trickster, Bob Dylan, who appears at the same time to be life’s most sober detractor and most subtle appreciator: “It’s alright ma, it’s life and life only.” The first episode of The Clone Wars teaches us how to watch the series and life itself—enjoy the ride, because we all know where it’s going to end…


  1. Rhizome is right! Clones, Yoda, Buk, Bob, everyone is here. The context of the story itself denies us all narrative fixation. We must look at details, not at the future, because we already know the future. Know it's bleak, scary, really don't even WANT to look into the future. So we look at how Yoda moves. The tone in which Anakin speaks to Ashoka. The way each jedi holds a lightsaber differently. This is awesome. Your close reading is exactly what the series needs and what it allows: a microscopic window into a macroscopic epic.

  2. "The universe" agrees: the verifaction word for that comment was JOYEDI

    which must be a joyful jedi